March was a bit of a funny reading month for me. I started off great guns with The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but then the Corona Virus ramped up and I found it really difficult to sit down and focus on reading. So I didn’t quite manage my usual number of books, but I definitely had a few great ones in there.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
This was my Book Club’s choice for this month, although sadly we never got to meet up to discuss it as we were on lockdown by that point. And I’m quite sad about that, as I really loved this book and could talk about it for ages! It tells the story, from birth until fairly old age, of Cyril Avery. Cyril is the illegitimate child of a young woman, cast out of her rural Irish community, and who gives her son up for adoption. He is adopted by the wealthy but entirely bonkers Averys, who never mistreat him, but who show him very little love and constantly remind him that he is not a real Avery. The story moves from postwar Dublin, to Amsterdam, to New York, and then back to Ireland, set against the backdrop of the IRA and terrorist bombings, and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Cyril’s experience as a gay man in conservative Ireland is heartbreakingly lonely and sad, and in many ways this was a really heart wrenching read. At one point I found myself in floods of tears and I realised how attached I’d become to the characters. But it’s balanced with a dry humour that lifts the tone perfectly.
It’s quite a long read, but I found it captivating and difficult to put down. It’s a book which covers the whole spectrum of human emotion – sadness and joy, anger and forgiveness, love and hate. It’s a proper ‘story’ – full of pleasing coincidences and paths that repeatedly cross – and a family saga that spans decades. I absolutely fell in love with the characters and was sad to say goodbye to them by the time I turned the final page.
The First Time Lauren Pailing Died – Alyson Rudd
Lauren Pailing is just 13 the first time she dies. We first meet Lauren as a child – a somewhat strange child, who experiences visions – shafts of light where she is able to peer through into an alternate reality. When Lauren is tragically killed in a car accident when she is 13, she wakes up and finds herself in one of those alternate realities.
And from then on, the book splits into various different realities. One in which Lauren dies, and her parents are destroyed by grief. And another in which Lauren is only injured, and her life continues.
There is a lot of jumping back and forth between realities – more and more so as Lauren continues to die, creating more and more alternate realities.
But the one connecting thread throughout every reality is the mystery of a man named Peter Stanning, a colleague of Lauren’s father, who disappears one day. This mystery is consistent in every reality, and it ties them all together.
It’s a premise that is difficult to explain, and I suspect sounds very complicated, but it is so cleverly put together that it works beautifully. I found it a beautiful read, and it reminded me a lot of some of Kate Atkinson’s early novels, like Human Croquet, which remain some of my favourites.
The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
Gosh, I seem to have read a lot of books about death lately! The Immortalists asks the question, “if you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life”? It’s a family sage and tells the story of four siblings – Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya – who live in New York in the 1960s. They hear of a fortune teller who is able to predict the date of your death, and they seek her out to find out their fortunes.
Each of the siblings has a section of the story told from their point of view. We see with each story how the siblings have chosen to live their lives, based on the knowledge they’ve been given.
It’s a really interesting question to ask – if you could find out when you would die, would you want to know? And how would that knowledge change you? Is our fate predetermined, or do the choices that we make shape it?
I’d describe this as a book which seeks to explore those questions, and ultimately it’s a book about the nature of life, and what it means to live a fulfilling life. I did enjoy it, but I found it much more a book focused on these questions rather than about the family story. I found it quite difficult to really like the characters, who all had their own flaws, and who seemed to have very little connection to each other. But I must admit that I read this once we’d just entered lockdown, and I was finding it very difficult to concentrate my mind on losing myself in a story the way I usually do.
So overall, a good month’s reading for me! Next up is The Night Circus, I Am I Am I Am, and The Flat Share.
As always, I’d love to know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought.